While everyone in the game industry was following the latest news from GDC last week, I happened to notice an MMO milestone happening on Facebook: a casual virtual world called YoVille passed 5 million monthly active users.
Launched in May of last year, YoVille’s user growth rate is faster than that of any virtual world I’m aware of, quickly putting it in the upper ranks of other web-based MMOs, such as Gaia Online, launched in 2003, which reported 7 million monthly actives last Winter, and Habbo, launched in 2000, which reported nearly 10 million monthlies last June. Even more surprising to me, YoVille is only accessible as an app on Facebook and MySpace (where it currently counts 2.8 million users.)
How did it get so successful so fast? “Many casual social network users were hungry for a virtual world, and YoVille was the first to deliver that experience,” YoVille developer Justin Waldron speculated in an email interview. He also credits a design emphasis on play among friends for the site’s rapid growth.
One of many successful social games from San Francisco-based startup Zynga, YoVille invites players to create cartoonish avatars, customize their appearance and apartments, socialize with other users, and add them as friends. (Sort of like an animated, synchronous version of Facebook within Facebook.) Waldron tells me its user base has a demographic that’s 60 percent female and 40 percent male, mostly in the 13-35 year old range. Like many social games, YoVille has its own virtual currency, and that’s even led to some emergent user-created content: Zynga’s team was surprised to discover some players using the world’s virtual whiteboard object to draw and sell artworks to other users.
The company currently earns revenue from YoVille through banner ads, lead generation, and direct user purchase of YoVille cash. With such a spectacular growth rate, it’s likely we’ll see other developers attempting Facebook-based virtual worlds of their own. Waldron’s advice? “Be sure to listen to your users. You get a ton of useful feedback on social networks.”